COVID-19: Collectivism in the Face of Crisis

I won’t soon forget the events of the past week. I watched the world around me completely change in the span of four days as the novel corona virus took hold in the U.S. We are now on track to follow the same path as Italy and it’s hard to grasp and process how much has already changed. Admittedly, until Wednesday of this week I felt somewhat flippant about it all. It seemed that the world was falling apart over something akin to the flu. Then, on Tuesday I started to think differently about it. Jason pointed out that our privilege made it less scary and frankly, less dangerous for us. For example, I can choose to work from home and still get paid because I work for a progressive firm that prioritizes my well-being. Not to mention that the firm will do everything it can to financially support our healthcare needs. I won’t have to choose between eating and not exposing others if I feel ill. I will still be able to pay my rent even if the firm “closes” its physical spaces because I can continue to work. That’s not the reality for many workers. In particular, hourly workers and gig economy workers are vulnerable to having to make potentially life and death decisions due to financial hardship and lack of support. There is no safety net for them because in the U.S. if your employer isn’t providing health care, paid time off, and childcare then it’s on you to figure it out. It’s entirely up to us as individuals and private companies to figure what actions are appropriate and how to support each other and our workers.  

This pandemic is exposing the very ugly side of capitalism and American individualism. But it’s also showing us how important and powerful collectivism is. Our firm has come together to support each other as we try to make sense of what is happening. And we know we’re not alone – many of our clients have taken measures to protect and support their workers too. We are privileged because we have employer provided safety nets, but the protection we have should be available to everyone in the richest country in the world. Corona virus is exposing how critical a social safety net is. Lack of a social safety net in the U.S. means there is not access to affordable healthcare and that taking time off means basic necessities go unmet – not to mention the increased stress when children are part of the equation. We are all at a higher risk when people are forced to make healthcare choices based on their financial situation. This crisis has shown us that we can’t rely on the government to fix these shortcomings, so the responsibility lies with the privileged among us.

Now more than ever we should be asking ourselves how we can help and what we can do to create the reality we want to see. Our clients are pushing the envelope and fighting for the better world we all envision. I’m inspired by them and by my colleagues. We are working together to create a less extractive economy that redistributes wealth and takes better care of the people that make it all possible. It’s not perfect and our movement is still relatively small, but we have seen the power of prioritizing the collective over the individual. We are all in this together and that is clearer than ever right now.

I’m not saying our work, or our individual actions can stop the pandemic, but we can take this moment to take care of each other in an uncertain time. Share your toilet paper, offer to babysit, check-in on your neighbors. We can learn from what’s happening and let the lessons inform our decisions going forward. We can let this moment light a fire and reinforce our resolve to continue to fight for the collective good. We can come out of this one step closer to an economy and social structure that is human centered, empathetic, and abundant for all.